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6 tips to help young children develop bodily agency

Legal safeguards and caregiver awareness will fall short if children are not empowered to protect themselves. Here are some tips to teach them how

It is a good idea to provide age-appropriate information in easily digestible formats.
It is a good idea to provide age-appropriate information in easily digestible formats. (Pexels)

For children, protection from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse is not just a right they possess; it is also a collective responsibility shared by caregivers and society at large. While legal safeguards and caregiver awareness play significant roles, there will always be a hole in the umbrella if children themselves are not empowered to protect and take care of themselves. 

As an early childhood care and education expert, I believe that providing age-appropriate information in easily digestible formats is crucial in fostering children's ability to safeguard their well-being.

Here are actionable insights and recommendations to guide your discussions with young ones, promoting ‘SAFETY’ through empowerment.

S: Safeguarding transparency
As caregivers, we hold a pivotal role in helping children comprehend that maintaining secrets about their bodies is detrimental. Establishing yourself as a trustworthy confidant enables children to openly communicate without hesitation. They should feel assured that discussing anything with you is both permissible and encouraged.

A: Amplify awareness
Conversations centred on age-appropriate knowledge are instrumental in cultivating children's understanding of their bodies. Begin by familiarizing them with accurate names for all body parts, including private ones. Talking about them, with no shame attached, can empower children to freely share their concerns and establish healthy boundaries. Address the concept of who is allowed to touch, see or examine their bodies, emphasizing that only medical professionals, under parental supervision or trusted family members, may do so. Establishing and modelling boundaries yourself, where you do not change in front of your children or explicitly say ‘no’ to uncomfortable touches can help children find their strength and normalize the act of opposing or raising an alarm in such situations. 

Also Read: Are our children smarter than we had been?

F: Foster friendly communication
Cultivating a foundation of trust and love is vital. Regular, non-judgmental conversations that explore daily experiences create a safe space for sharing. Employ real-life scenarios to initiate important discussions during routine activities, ensuring engagement and candidness. Continuously reassure children that their well-being is paramount, reinforcing the notion that they can confide in you without repercussions.

E: Equip with exit strategies
While preparation is key, the reality is that children may encounter dangerous situations. Equipping them with strategies like confidently saying "no," making noise to attract attention, or seeking refuge with a trusted adult is essential. Role-playing and practical exercises bolster their confidence in employing these tactics. Designating a secret ‘safe’ word between you and your child can facilitate communication during distressing moments.

T: Trustworthy network identification
Encourage children to identify a circle of dependable adults beyond you, individuals to approach in emergencies or when you're unavailable. Collaboratively select individuals who are known, trusted, and prioritise child safety. A word of caution here would also be for the child to know that no matter who these trusted adults are, they too cannot transgress the boundaries that children make for themselves or have private secrets that you may not be aware of. Create a note or a diary where children can record the names of these safe adults, their contact details, address and direction to the ‘safe spaces’, something which they can always keep handy with them. 

Also Read: 3 ways to avoid helicopter parenting

Y: Your body, your boundaries
Instill the notion that children have ownership over their bodies. Empower them to determine their comfort zones regarding physical touch, asserting their preferences and communicating boundaries. Emphasise that their body rules apply universally, regardless of the person's relationship or age. Remember that a ‘safe’ may not always be a ‘wanted’ touch and this definition of what is unwanted or undesired can only be ascertained by the owner of the body—the child. 

By nurturing open communication, understanding bodily autonomy, and equipping them with strategies, you foster resilience and awareness that will serve them throughout your children's lives. Child safety is a multifaceted endeavor that demands the collective commitment of caregivers, society, and children themselves. 

Sukhna Sawhney is Content and Curriculum Lead, Rocket Learning

Also Read: How to make your child comfortable in a blended family system

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